Best ways to spend travel money in Switzerland: Debit & prepaid cards

Learn more about the best card to use, if you should use a UK debit card and other ways to take spending money to Switzerland.

Regardless of what you plan to do in Switzerland, you’ll need to organise your travel money before you get there. If you’re not sure where to start, use our travel money guide to compare travel money options. This guide will also help you familiarise yourself with the best ways you can juggle your finances on your holiday.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union and uses its own national currency, the Swiss Franc. As one of the most developed nations in the world it can be easy to spend a fortune in Switzerland, making it even more essential that you’re saving as much as you can when converting, withdrawing and spending your cash.

Thankfully Switzerland’s high levels of development also make all of these relatively easy to do, with the country offering many global banking institutions, an abundance of ATMs and card acceptance at the point of sale. Visa and Mastercard debit and travel money cards are widely accepted throughout the country, but American Express and Diner cards less so.

Read on for a comparison of products you can use in Switzerland without the fees for international transactions.

Low cost travel money options for Switzerland

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Travelling with a credit card

Nearly all mid to large restaurants, hotels and shops will accept over the counter credit card payments. Making a withdrawal on credit isn’t advised as cash advance charges apply, so use your debit or travel card. Travel extras such as insurance or an increased earn rate on rewards cards for overseas purchases are other points to consider when you’re comparing credit cards to use overseas.

  • Tip: Some providers waive cash advance charges when you keep a positive balance and make ATM withdrawals. Find out which providers let you do this and which won’t.

Using debit cards

A travel debit card lets you spend and withdraw in Switzerland like you would at home. Find a debit card that waives the international ATM withdrawal fee and you can make free withdrawals when you use an ATM offered by a Swiss bank.

The Virgin Money M Plus account could be a handy product to use in Switzerland. As well as spending and withdrawing without paying to convert pounds to francs, Virgin Money does not charge any international ATM withdrawal fees.

  • Tip: Always choose to be charged in the local currency when withdrawing your Swiss francs to avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) exchange rate charges.

Using prepaid travel cards

Prepaid travel cards let you load British pounds and lock in a rate when you convert the funds to Swiss francs. This allows you to avoid paying additional currency conversion fees, often around 3%. It also means that you can load the money at a time when the exchange rate is more favourable, compared to debit and credit cards which use the live exchange rate to convert your cash.

However, these cards can have other charges such as reload fees, card issue fees and inactivity fees (yes, that’s right – when you’re not using the card). Pre-loading a set amount of pounds stops you from overspending – something that’s very easy to do in Switzerland.

However, if you run out of cash, it can take a couple of days for your pounds to be re-loaded onto the card, so never leave it till your card is empty before you top up. You’ll also be provided a spare card in case one of them goes missing. These cards can be cancelled separately to one another.

Using traveller’s cheques

Traveller’s cheques are an outdated travel money product. It’s far easier and a much cheaper (using the right product) to get francs by using an ATM. If you do have traveller’s cheques, you can cash your cheques at exchange offices at train stations or at a bank. Exchange offices offer the same rates as banks; however they may charge a commission for the transaction.

  • Tip: Banks are open during regular business hours Monday to Friday: 8:30am – 4:30pm.

Taking a cash with you

It’s cheaper to get your cash exchanged in Switzerland than it is in the UK. It’s cheaper still if you make an ATM withdrawal using a card that doesn’t charge for currency conversion or international withdrawals.

Nonetheless, we always recommend taking some cash with you just in case you do have any issues. If you have pounds or euros you need to exchange in Switzerland, bureaux de change outlets can be found at airports and train stations. You can also change your money at a bank, which will usually give you the most competitive rate for changing cash locally.

  • Tip: Some large retailers will accept euros (the majority of businesses will not). If you use euros, you will get a worse rate than paying with the local currency.

How much can I expect to spend in Switzerland?

Yes, the rumours are true, Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit, and, according to some estimates, the most expensive country in the world to live. Although hardly a budget destination, it is possible to save a penny here and there. If you’re on a tight budget, you may have to avoid eating out, or instead enjoy some cheaper international dishes.

ZurichBudgetMidrangeExpensive
sleepSleepHostel
£30 – £60 per night
2 star hotel
£70 – £150 per night
5 star hotel
£250 – £600 per night
foodEatSwiss sausage sandwich plus a pint of beer (street food)
£15
Noodle house (Thai restaurant)
£20 per dish
Michelin star restaurant
£100 plus per person
rent-a-bikeDoRent a bike and ride around the city
Rental is free + £30 deposit
2 hour Zurich City walking tour
£25 per person
Switzerland mountains, cheese and chocolate tour
£120 per person

*Prices are approximate and based on summer seasonality and are subject to change

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Which one do I choose: Travel card, debit card or credit card?

Visa and Mastercard branded products are accepted in more places than American Express and Diners cards throughout Switzerland. You will be able to see which cards are accepted in different places by looking for the card scheme logo at the point of sale terminal and ATM machines.

Switzerland is a modern economy with financial services as one of its primary industries, so you won’t need to carry a large amount of cash as you can use your card in more places than not. Make sure your card has a chip. This will let you make contactless payments for over the counter purchases and the majority of point of sale terminals use the chip rather than the magnetic strip to process the payment.

Travel money options for Switzerland at a glance

Travel money optionProsConsiderations
Debit cards for travel
  • Secured with a chip and a PIN technology
  • Can be easily blocked by your issuer with just a phone call
  • ATMs are ‘everywhere’ in Switzerland
  • Doesn’t come with a back-up card
  • Linked directly to bank account. This could have security implications if your card goes missing.
  • Fees to consider such as ATM fees
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Allow you to hold multiple foreign currencies at a time
  • Save on currency conversion fees
  • Can be easily blocked by your issuer with just a phone call
  • Come with a back up card and are protected by PIN
  • Pre-load a set amount so you can’t overspend
  • Need to pay a fee to convert your own money into Swiss francs
  • Often charge ATM fees (approx £2.00)
  • Inactivity fees, reload fees, card issue fees
  • Funds may take time to clear
Credit cards for travel
  • No currency conversion fees
  • Features such as insurance or reward points earning
  • Accepted in many restaurants and retailers
  • ATM cash withdrawals may attract cash advances and higher fees
  • Rewards program may cost more than they are worth
Traveller’s cheques
  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Expensive way to carry foreign cash
  • Not all merchants accept traveller’s cheques
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

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Buying Swiss francs in the UK

It will be cheaper to wait to exchange your British pounds to Swiss francs in Switzerland, either at a bank or by making an ATM withdrawal, rather than getting cash changed in the UK before you depart. If you do want francs to help pay for initial costs such as a taxi or a coffee compare your options here.

Finding cash and ATMs in Switzerland

Remember when withdrawing cash to always be charged in the local currency (Swiss francs) as otherwise you’ll be forced to pay the unfavourable Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) exchange rate.

Bottom line

Its always best to have a mixture of travel money options so you can benefit from their various advantages at different times. It’s also much safer to have a few different options just in case you experience any problems. A line of credit gives you peace of mind to cover any unforeseen circumstances; while using a debit card or travel card for cash withdrawals and over the counter purchases in Switzerland is much cheaper.

Whether you’re heading to Switzerland to hit the slopes or simply to enjoy the culture, there’s a bit you need to get in order before you depart. Take the right combination of cards so you can withdraw and spend conveniently and cheaply. If you have questions about travel money for Switzerland, ask us a question using the ‘Ask a Question’ form below.

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We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you.

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